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Mark BradleyMark Bradley

South Carolina’s collapse opens the East for UGA

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I'm guessing this pass was completed. (Rainier Erhardt/AP)

I’m guessing this pass was completed. (Rainier Erhardt/AP)

Two thoughts occurred Thursday night. (And only two; I’m not exactly a deep thinker.) First, that South Carolina, having been routed by Texas A&M, will be in desperation mode when Georgia plays in Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 13. Second, that the Gamecocks mightn’t be good enough for it to matter.

I’ve been around the SEC long enough — I covered my first conference game in 1976 — that not much surprises me. South Carolina being picked over Georgia in the East did. The Gamecocks had lost the best quarterback in school history (Connor Shaw of Flowery Branch) and the best defender in school history (Jadeveon Clowney), and somehow they were going to win what they hadn’t won with either in place? (Stephen Garcia was the No. 1 quarterback when South Carolina took the East in 2010; Clowney was in high school.)

I’d be lying if I said I saw A&M’s 52-28 road victory coming. I thought it would have a chance — Kevin Sumlin is a very good coach who has recruited at a high level — but the Aggies were missing three NFL first-rounders (Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel) off a four-loss team. But new quarterback Kenny Hill — a sophomore whose dad Ken was the No. 1 starter on the 1994 Montreal Expos, who led the Braves by six games when the strike washed out the remainder of the season — threw for 511 yards, more than even Johnny Football managed, in his first start.

The Aggies gained 680 yards, the most by any South Carolina opponent ever, and scored on five of six first-half possessions. The heat in Columbia again falls on defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, whose charges (Clowney included) yielded 536 yards and 41 points in the loss to Georgia last season. After this latest defensive collapse, Steve Spurrier asked reporters” “Did anybody like that 3-4 defense? I don’t know if it would have mattered if we played a 6-6 defense.”

None of this means Georgia is a lock to win anything. It could lose to Clemson, though I doubt it will. It could still lose to South Carolina. (Hutson Mason might not be as good as Kenny Hill.) But the team picked to win the SEC East is in real danger of starting the conference season 0-2 — with two home losses! — and there could be no coming back from that.

Oh, and in case you missed it: Vanderbilt lost its opener, the start of which was delayed by thunderstorms until nearly 11 p.m. EDT, to Temple. The score was 37-7. The game was played in Nashville. The SEC East is 0-2.

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